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Archive for the ‘hope’ Category

It’s happened before.  I hear about a friend whose marriage is rough.  I understand the swirling strain the mind goes through, trying to solve problems.  Is there a way out?  I understand the grief when a thing isn’t what it should be.  It may be the only way to stay sane, to hold tight to the fact that God’s design is better than this.  Marriage is good.  God designed it to be good.  He designed it to be better than what anyone experiences.  And though He isn’t out of control, what we do and experience falls short of the glories God designed.  What we do and experience, though, can still bring Him glory.

 

I digress.  Is there a way out?  If God didn’t intend it to be this way, must I still live in it?  God’s design for humanity is health, but we get sick; we feel pain.  Must we still live it?

 

God’s design for fatherhood is to be one who speaks to his children, teaching them the way they should go, demonstrating love and patience. Fathers chasten their children so that they will learn to be good, God-fearing, and productive.  But if a man fathers a child and then walks away, is he still a father?  Our society is all in a rush, with step-parents and father-figures, to give the title of father to those who come closest to fulfilling the design for that role.  I’m not sure I disagree with an analogous application of the term “father” to someone who is doing the work of a father.  What concerns me is when we say that the man who abandoned his family is not a father.  The thing that, in fact, makes a man a father, is his biological participation in bringing a child into the world.  Are we letting biological fathers off the hook by telling them that unless they act like fathers, they aren’t fathers (and, thence, they don’t have the responsibilities of fathers)?  Perhaps a more difficult question is whether God means for “Honor your father and mother” to apply even to fathers (or mothers) who are not living up to the ideals.

 

So I’ve been pondering the difference between what is essential to a thing, and what makes a thing “good”.  A marriage is one man and one woman covenanting and becoming one flesh for this life.  A good marriage is more.  A good marriage has good communication, good teamwork, is productive and pleasurable.  A good marriage involves each helping the other become closer to God.  A good marriage is a testimony of love to the world.  Do God’s expectations for marriage only apply to healthy, thriving ones?  If one spouse isn’t living up to the ideals of a “good” marriage, is the other spouse free to claim this isn’t going to work out?  Or does “What God has brought together, let no man separate” apply even to marriages that just meet the bare bones definition of a marriage?  (And what are the bare bones of things, in God’s eyes – as He has revealed them to us?)

 

It’s a hard road, but I believe that we are called not to escape the things and people who are broken, but to love them and to mourn over their/our brokenness.  I believe we are to hope for the good, even when it looks impossible.  I believe that when we read the Bible, we must do so submitting to God’s revelation for our understanding of the institutions God instructs us about.  A father begets a child. Those children are commanded to relate to their father with obedience and honor.  Such a father is commanded to treat his children in certain ways.  Marriage is a thing, even if it is a different thing from what we imagined or hoped for when we started it.  Being a Christian is a thing, with responsibilities that we don’t escape by failing to live up to them.  Being a friend is a thing that I’m wrestling with right now, trying to understand what God teaches are the bare-bones essentials of friendship and also what He delights for it to be.  Church is a thing.  Gender is a thing.  How well we live these things doesn’t change what they are.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Ok, so there’s this thing going on in the NFL, a gesture of disapprobation for something some players view as a national problem.  The phenomenon is actually in other sports, too.  I’ve seen it in the WNBA, and heard quotes from an NBA player in support of the right to protest.  It takes the form of kneeling during the national anthem or standing with arms linked as an expression of solidarity for a cause.  The cause, as I understand it, is racial equality and justice, with the related concern of police brutality.  And a lot of fans don’t appreciate these protests.  I have observed several reasons that people object.  First, people object to the means of the protest, that it is not showing traditional honor to the United States during the national anthem.  Second, they believe the context, sports/entertainment should be free from political statements (but usually these same people want the political statement of the national anthem being played and honored to remain).  Third, they disagree with the cause for which the players are protesting – not necessarily that they don’t believe it is an important principle, but because they don’t believe the problem is as pervasive as some consider it to be.

 

On some level, I agree with each of these reasons to oppose what these athletes are doing.  However, I have some concerns with the ways people like me are responding.  These concerns are what this post is about.

 

There are three instances I have in mind, which I have encountered this week, that are at the top of my list of reasons to be concerned.  I don’t feel comfortable repeating the language used in these responses, so I will summarize them.  President Trump used profanity to describe people who, as he and many others perceive it, disrespect the national anthem, flag, and country by protesting in this way.  A caller to a talk radio program suggested that those who want to “take a knee” should get a knee, in a way that would cause them pain or injury.  A Facebook post “liked” by a friend used a few different curse words to curse the athletes who were kneeling during the national anthem.  This Facebook user also specifically identified one athlete and hoped he would, in the course of the game, have to be taken off the field on a stretcher.  To this I say, Whoa.  Some people are doing things we don’t agree with and don’t like.  Since when is the correct response to use profanity to describe or curse them?  It is morally inferior to wish violence on peaceful protesters.  There isn’t a lot more to say.  I can’t believe this isn’t obvious common decency.  I can’t believe the people who agree with me are wishing violence on those we disagree with.

 

While I’m on the subject of peaceful protesting, let me make my next point.  A lot of people whose views I mostly share on the subject of race in America are concerned at the escalating violence committed by the malcontents, however legitimate their grievances.  It has been pointed out that Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t burn buildings, overturn cars, or get into street fights with the white supremacists and segregationists he was campaigning against.  There are peaceful ways of raising awareness for your cause, and pursuing the changes you believe are necessary.  I find it disheartening that when a movement arises that is peacefully trying to draw attention to the same issues, it is squashed with as much indignation (and, as mentioned above, threat of force) as the violent movements are.  Let me just say, that while I don’t advocate violence, I know history and humanity well enough to recognize that when people feel desperate, like there is no other way to be heard, they tend to resort to violence.  Should we really be silencing their peaceful statements?

 

On the other hand, at this point, the NFL players who have been protesting ought to recognize that their message has been lost in their method.  Whatever their actual reasons for kneeling, and whatever cause they hoped to highlight, the only thing people who didn’t already know and agree with them are getting from their protests now is a provoking perception that these people hate America.  And honestly, however unintended, the way their actions are being received was not unforeseeable.  I understand that it feels a little like giving in, but as one commentator mentioned, a real protest doesn’t plan to go on forever; it has goals and engages in a process.  So I believe that now, at the very least, they should switch methods.

 

Let’s talk, for a minute, though, about how unfair it is to assign motives to people, in direct disregard for their testimonies about their own motives.  I can think of a lot of more disrespectful actions one could take if they intended to communicate the disrespect ascribed to them.  I have not seen any of these players spitting in veterans’ faces or stomping on the flag.  I have not heard a single athlete say that what they are protesting is the United States’ stand for freedom, nor that they are protesting the soldiers who have served to protect those freedoms they enjoy.  To consistently characterize their protest as against these things is pretty dishonest and egocentric (that is, behaving as though our own perceptions are the most valid).  Let’s not be angry about what they’re not even saying.

 

That said, if their method offends you because of its unintended belittling of things you hold dear, I have a couple of recommendations.  I suggest you recognize that these people are not injuring you, nor encouraging others to do so.  They’re not preventing anyone else from showing honor to the anthem or flag.  If you wanted, you could change the channel and not even see whether they’re kneeling or not.  You could calmly and humbly admit to them that the effect their actions has on your feelings is to irritate you. (This is known as an “I statement”.  It defuses tension because it comes across as less judgmental and more open to their side of the matter, while still inviting them to show consideration to you.)  In that case, rather than believing that all things that irritate us should be forced to go away, you could attempt to engage those with whom you disagree (a little tricky with celebrities, I admit) in respectful dialogue in order to persuade them of your way of thinking.  I advocate for this because one of the great things about people is that they can change.  Even if they haven’t shown an inclination to change, God can change them.  Or, we might be surprised and change a bit ourselves.

 

Another option is to suggest alternative methods of getting the word out or taking a conscientious stand.  This could be challenging.  I’ve tried to consider how I would abstain from showing an honor I don’t believe is presently justified, without being disrespectful?  What if the cause was something nearer to my heart than that which we’re discussing?  If some current and distressing aspect of the USA (abortion, international aggression, government mandating immorality, [insert your pet concern here]) was the most prominent thing to me, so eclipsing the things I value and honor in America besides (sacrificial soldiers and officers, unique freedoms, Christian history, etc.) that I could not in good conscience risk communicating that I’m showing honor for the dishonorable things about our country, yet I still want to respect those things that I sincerely value – how would I act during the national anthem?  I saw a player this weekend, who was participating in the kneeling, but who still placed his hand over his heart.  Is that a good way to communicate both?  Or would it fail to satisfy the outrage many are feeling?  Is it necessary to hold a press conference ahead of time to explain the complex motives informing the decision?  Anyway, I personally am not offended by their method, so it is not for me to say what tactics would be less offensive.  I’d love to hear feedback on this question if you have constructive ideas!

 

Aside from how to handle the expectation of honoring our country before each game, there are some more obvious alternatives for using the platform they have as professional sports stars to engage the public on behalf of their communities and the causes that are they prioritize: They can use social media.  They can call press conferences.  They can organize events.  They can donate to organizations.  They can serve in their communities.  They can meet with influential people who disagree with them, and start a dialogue.

 

When this topic resurfaced this week (months after Colin Kaepernick initiated his kneeling protests), one thing I thought of was the historical abolitionists.  They incorporated their causes into their private businesses.  In an industry that didn’t have much to do with slavery directly, the Wedgwood company wanted to be involved in ending slavery.  So they printed abolitionist symbols on their ceramic medallions, to raise awareness, to bring the cause from the fringes to the mainstream.  The image from the medallion came to be also put on vases and snuff boxes and bracelets.  I think this is an excellent means of promoting social justice, and that the NFL, if it so chooses, could employ such methods for causes they believe in.

 

That said, if their customers or employees don’t believe in their cause, the NFL may find themselves with a choice between profits and activism.  I believe it ought to be any private business’s right to put any (non-sinful) condition on their employees for keeping their jobs.  So if the NFL wants to demand that players stand for the national anthem, they can.  If they want to demand that they kneel, they can.  If they want to allow their employees the option of joining either cause (pro-patriotism or pro-reform), they can.  And we, as the patrons, can decide not only if we like the product, but if we want to indirectly support the causes the companies are promoting, and these conditions for their employees.  I really value this aspect of free markets, and for that reason, I’m reluctant to discourage the boycott that many are engaging in since the NFL declined to take disciplinary measures against players who kneel.

 

But I do.  I discourage the boycott because of the following four reasons:  First, the boycott has the unintended consequence of drawing more attention to the protest, a protest whose whole point, from what I can tell, is to garner attention.  Second, if a bunch of people with mostly conservative values stop watching the NFL, and if the NFL doesn’t comply with their wishes, football will become a smaller part of our culture, but it won’t go away, and it will be left to people who don’t share our values.  Not that this would be a huge tragedy, but there are too many parts of our society that we retreat from.  Do we really want to give over news media, storytelling industries, arts, higher education, the medical fields, cake-making, counseling, and charity to people whose values we oppose?  It is hard work, surely, to keep them and keep them well, but I hope some things are worth it to us.  Third, really? The national anthem and the players standing for it is an integral part of the experience of being a football fan to you?  I don’t even know why we have the national anthem at sports games, and most of the time I don’t get around to tuning in or paying attention until kick off anyway.  And what the players do during the anthem is not affecting the actual game, which is what I want to see.  Finally, while I’m proud of Americans for being able to eschew the conventional obsession with football, I’m disappointed that this is what provokes people to boycott – not scantily clad cheerleaders or players who sleep around or whatever other, more demonstrably wicked behaviors the sport tolerates in its employees.  In addition to football, there are many other businesses whose employees promote all sorts of ungodliness, yet most Americans still patronize them.  Is patriotism such a superior cause?

 

What would you do if the president of the United States said that you or your coworkers should be fired for declining to participate in some morally significant activity?  Would you feel threatened?  Would you relent in fear, or take a stand against a dangerous use of the bully pulpit to compel patriotic uniformity?

 

Some people think these players should be fired, among them President Trump, according to a statement he made last week.  Fellow athletes who may not agree with the cause of the protest, nevertheless respect their teammates’ views and believe they should not be forced to make a political statement they aren’t presently sincere about, just to keep their jobs.  In order to deter their organizations from firing them, these additional players join the protest, because it is much harder to fire half a team than one or two members.

 

Even before President Trump’s comments, to teammates and coaches and owners, the question was not so simple as whether or not they love their country.  The represented cause matters to a lot of the football players and – though you may not be aware, from being in a bubble of likeminded people – a lot of fans.  They had to consider what message it would send to those teammates and fans, to not join in their protest.  If they valued unity and peace – like I do! – they had to make an attempt at a choice that had potential to bring people together, or to demonstrate an example of unity, at least.  I believe this is why some teams chose to stand together with linked elbows, and even why some people joined the protest, who wouldn’t have started it on their own.  They don’t want to be seen to say that they don’t care about things that matter to others.  And even if we disagree with their conclusions, I don’t want ordinary people, myself included, to disregard the things that are inspiring people to take these bold stands.

 

I’m disillusioned enough to realize that some of the participants in these protests are just doing it because it’s popular, or because they’re emotional.  But I also believe that many of them hope for good things for their country.  They see problems.  Not as bad as they have been at some points in our history, and not as bad as the problems in other parts of the world, but they care about what is theirs, their country, here and now.  And they want to contributed to improvement.  That’s why I was disheartened to read that some, even among my friends, suggest that dissenters should expatriate.  If you don’t think America is perfect, move somewhere else?!  If I believed that, I’d have to be living in another country!  And if everyone believed that, no one would have anywhere to live, because every country on earth has problems, and every country on earth has the gift of citizens who haven’t given up on seeing them overcome.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I took a walk last week, on the day after our first snow here in Colorado.  The air was nippy but not wintry yet, fighting its way back to sunny seventies soon.  My boots beat along the sidewalk, until I came beneath a certain tree.  No one had warned it about the snow the night before.  It had been bearing the glorious fruit of autumn only a few days prior – the air a balmy 80 degrees.  Who knew that cold would come?

I picked my way around fallen fruits, darkened by separation from the sap – whether because of the cold hardening the nutrients yesterday or from today when the branch let go, I couldn’t tell.  But what was plain to see was that the tree had surrendered to the surprise.  It didn’t keep on with its job of growing fruit.  Instead it let them splatter the ground, making an ugly mess.

So I pulled my jacket close against the wind, bowed my head beneath the somber scene, and prayed to not be like that tree.  Don’t let me give in to bitterness just because hard things were unexpected.  Please, God, let me be useful to You no matter what, to be drawing near and bearing fruit of love and joy and truth and glory to You.  Give me faith to keep trusting even when things look bleak.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” ~ John 15:16

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I read once that Tolkien wrote with the pessimism of the pagan poets [1].  They uphold honor in despair, dying well, the heroic quest at the cost of losing everything you love.  But I read Tolkien and see hope scribed into every chapter.  No light, whimsical child’s hope: Tolkien’s hope is not ignorance of all things capable of clouding the good.  It’s a “fool’s hope,” [2] where anyone can see that in all likelihood, if things go on as they are, the fool will be disappointed.  In Tolkien, the fools know themselves to be fools.

 

Elven-King Fingolfin’s story weighs on the side of hopelessness.  The Silmarillion describes him as “fey” [3] when he challenges Melkor himself, living up to the epic’s heroic virtues.  What hope has an elf against a Vala?  But the Vala ought to be contended, resisted, fought.  Though the high king of the Noldor (elves) finally fell, his fight was not without effect.  The Dark Lord Melkor limped forever after.

 

At first reading, it seems that Aragorn commends this sort of despairing courage when he instructs his friends, “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.” [4]  But Gandalf, the wizard who knows his life-encompassing hope is foolish, lends a bit of insight early on.  Recognizing he is a fool, he embraces humility.  Do you hear it in Gandalf’s words? “Despair, or folly?  It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.  We do not.  It is wisdom to recognize necessity, when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope.” [5]  He acknowledges that he may not have all the facts.  Indeed, thinking that he knew what the end would be was the prideful downfall of Denethor, who let his enemy select the facts he discovered, and so turn him to despair, and madness.  Tolkien’s works regularly discourage the assumption that we know the future.

 

He also discourages despair.  I know it doesn’t seem true.  There are some pivotal scenes driven by characters that rashly pursue death and glory.  Aragorn is accused of it when he takes the Paths of the Dead, but that perspective is refuted.  Though the way had been shut for long ages, the time had come.  Such is the way of hope.  Things go on in a certain way until the due time, and then change springs upon the world.

 

Perhaps most potent is the image of grey-eyed Dernhelm.  The warrior’s silent, calm assurance going in search of death chilled Merry.  And it awakens our empathy.  Why shouldn’t it?  Who hasn’t felt that life is going from bad to worse, and decided to rush forward to the end instead of waiting to be burned with the house?  I think maybe Tolkien intended to carry us along with this character, so that we could reach the same end.  Dernhelm was proud, seeking glory before duty, though demonstrating loyal love to King Theoden by staying close to him.  And glory was achieved.  And darkness did descend on the desperate hero.  Even as Dernhelm revealed herself as Eowyn, golden hair glittering in the storm-piercing sunrise like a figment of hope; she was cast down, poisoned, and taken for dead.  [6]

 

But now we come to it:  Tolkien’s hope is the kind that stands further and deeper than all those things – than despair and darkness and loss.  He knew about a resurrection hope, about seeds bringing forth fruit after they have fallen into the ground and died.  Maybe he knew that fruit is more glorious than merely putting an end to your enemies.  His hope embraces grief.  It accepts hard things.  Good is not determined by the outcome, but by some transcendent standard.  And this hope joyfully trusts that there is someOne good who may intervene yet.

 

For Eowyn woke, and repented her destructive ideals.  Day came again.  Darkness was not unescapable.  Faramir described the moment, “I do not know what is happening.  The reason of my waking mind tells me that great evil has befallen and we stand at the end of days.  But my heart says nay; and all my limbs are light, and a hope and joy are come to me that no reason can deny.  … in this hour I do not believe that any darkness will endure!” [7]  So Eowyn moved and married, healed and tended gardens. [8]  Her story is a fuller exposition of the transformation the Fellowship underwent in Moria.  They lost their way and lost their guide.  They had descended black depths and awakened demons so that they lost hope.  But on the field high on the mountain slopes, “they came beyond hope under the sky and felt the wind on their faces.” [9]

 

[1] Hopeless Courage by Loren Rosson, III (http://www.hollywoodjesus.com/lord_of_the_rings_guest_03.htm)

[2] The Return of the King: “The Siege of Gondor” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 797)

[3] See etymology of “fey” at http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fey&allowed_in_frame=0

[4] The Two Towers: “The Riders of Rohan” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 430)

[5] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Council of Elrond” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 262)

[6] The Return of the King: “The Battle of the Pelennor Fields” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 823-824)

[7] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 941)

[8] The Return of the King: “The Steward and the King” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 943-944)

[9] The Fellowship of the Ring: “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum” by JRR Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin One-Volume Edition 2001; p. 323)

 

See also, The Silmarillion: “Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin” by JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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